I’ve been criticized for saying this before, but I’m not the only one that is pointing this out – so I’ll pass this article on as a reference to the idea that small airports are struggling to maintain services and things are not going to get easier around North America. The following article references several American cities…

GOVERNING: Small-city airports/April 2009

Salem isn’t alone. Many of the nation’s smaller cities have seen their commercial service disappear in recent months, as airlines slashed costs and the recession deepened. More than 400 airports saw their flights cut last year. And nearly 30 U.S. cities lost service altogether, including Wilmington, Delaware; Lake Havasu City, Arizona; and Boulder City, Nevada. “Smaller airports are under a lot of stress right now,” says Patrick Murphy, an airline consultant based in Washington, D.C.

Alexander says Salem isn’t giving up. “The community really feels like, to be a competitive city, we really need a commercial airline. We think service will return. I don’t know when.”

If that isn’t enough of a problem, the very planes that are used as standard craft for these services are being phased out by airlines – which may seem counter intuitive…

Another problem is the decline of the 50-seat jet. When they were first introduced in the 1990s, these aircraft became very popular for airlines looking to serve smaller, regional markets. But rising fuel costs changed the equation. Airlines are increasingly turning to larger planes that seat 70 or 80 passengers. The newer planes use fuel more efficiently, and they increase the airlines’ profit margins. “In the long term,” says Murphy, “many of these smaller jets are going to be phased out.” Communities that struggle to fill 50-seat planes will find it impossible to justify 80-seaters to the airlines.

This only factors the cost of fuel not the availability of it, or the carbon tax implications that may come forward in the future. Flights account for a large percentage of total transportation carbon output for the average citizen. What needs to be understood by communities and decision makers is that flying is a luxury entirely based on cheap abundant oil.

The City of Castlegar is wrapped up in basing the future of the community oin expansions around the airport – as though the current status of this land as a possible transportation hub is somehow able to be continued into the future indefinitely.

I’d argue that air travel to Castlegar has a limited applicability beyond the next 5 years. The price of oil is not likely to go down over this time, and the net wealth of small communities in British Columbia is not likely to improve dramatically, if at all.

I hate the idea that the way of life we experience today is likely to end sometime soon – but not yet unless we choos for it to. But decision makers need to understand these limitations to be able to use the funding oportunities out there for the best longterm benefit for the community.

Published by Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada.

4 replies on “Small City Airports”

  1. Very good points Mike. Add to this the seemingly ever increasing security requirements – e.g. not flights from small airports allowed into Vancouver during the Olympics, and I think we’ll see a lot of small fields reduced to small private flights in the not to distant future. For some small communities this will be a disappointment and people will have to go back to driving to major centres if they want (and can afford) to take a commercial flight somewhere. For communities that are pouring money and resources into upgrades, expansions, and infrastructure – the outcome will be all the more painful as these expenses become stranded assets – useful things that have no use. Wise investments of infrastructure and other development funds are those that will provide local benefits in all potential future scenarios.



  2. Adam thanks for your comments – stranded assets is going to be the theme of the future in this heavily suburban landscape. Small airports are no exception. (I will get onto the questionnaire as well!)

  3. It looks like at least 2 of your three examples (Wilmington, Delaware and Boulder City, Nevada) have airports within short drive of the one that’s closing. Castlegar is in a different situation (3 hours, several mountain passes – winter driving conditions, winding roads – to nearest airport) and closing the airport here will likely have bigger impacts.

  4. Agreed, however, the locations mentioned probably have much higher population densities to support air travel. BC was still the “wild west” long after many other areas of the continent were tamed.

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